An Epidemic of Over-Programmed Kids

By Susan Fell

Parents want the best for their children and often think about what they had, or did not have, as a child and adjust their parenting style to accommodate their hopes and dreams for their children.

Children are taught that successful people try new things, take risks, work hard to meet their goals, and dedicate themselves to doing their personal best. However, parents sometimes forget to teach their children how balance and healthy stress management play into a successful life.

Our society does not promote or reward laziness. Efficiency, expertise and over-involvement are highly promoted. We expect much from ourselves and our children; so it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap and feel pressure to overextend by signing up for activities, teams, clubs, or volunteering for every cause.

The truth is that quality time cannot exist without a quantity of time. Personal, work and school commitments can quickly become overwhelming and leave us with little time for quiet contemplation, meditation, relaxation or quality family time.

As our children grow they begin to experiment with ways to balance fun and work, while becoming increasingly social and independent. Often this means over-involvement in afterschool clubs, sports and other activities. Learning to balance social and academic pressures, along with busy schedules is a challenging but essential life skill.

Children look to parents for guidance and encouragement. Listed below are ways parents can help their children achieve a healthy balance in a variety of ways:

  • When considering activities, discuss the time commitments, cost and requirements of each activity.
  • Encourage your children to prioritize their choices, and set limits on the number of activities they participate in.
  • Encourage your children to refrain from comparing themselves to peers or siblings. Individual ability to manage multiple activities differs from person to person.
  • Creating a family calendar is a useful, easy and fun way to get the “big picture” when considering new activities.
  • Holding weekly family meetings may seem uncomfortable at first but can lead to improved communication and opportunities for decision making and activity planning.

Aside from limiting activities, recognizing stress and making adjustments in our hectic lives may be even more important and can be critical to lifelong emotional and physical health. If your children complain that they are overextended or experiencing stress, be sure to listen.

Allow your children to change or reduce activities when they need to, even if you believe they have potential.

It’s also possible that they may not even recognize when they are experiencing overload. Most after-school and weekend activities are fun and exciting, but they can also reduce study time, free time and family time. Watch for signs of stress (irritability, changes in sleep or eating habits, repeated illness, drop in grades, etc.) and make adjustments accordingly.

Parents should also model healthy levels of work, recreation, family and community involvement themselves. Say “no” to unnecessary outside commitments. Prioritize personal obligations and discuss the changes and choices you have made with your family. Share your own stress symptoms with your children and practice stress management techniques regularly. Compliment your spouse and children for making healthy life choices.

Chaotic schedules often leave little time for family communication, especially since the family dinner is becoming obsolete. Increased obligations may also lead to miscommunication, arguments and additional stress. Parents need to reestablish priorities and verbalize their expectations for meaningful family time with their children. Regular communication between parents and children can significantly increase positive decision-making and problem solving during the teen years.

Parents can initiate a weekly family fun night and let each child choose activities on a rotating basis. In a hectic, overachieving world learning to slow down can be a challenge. Limiting activities, watching for signs of stress and making family time a priority are all ways parents can promote healthy balance in their children.

After all, success should not only be measured by how much you do, but by how happy you are about doing it.

Susan Fell, CSW, is a student assistance specialist at Brownell Middle School in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Enriched Communities Through Stronger Families
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